Local students live waking dream

Studying bugs and dead bodies is not everyone’s cup of tea. But for 14-year-old David Giesbrecht, it’s a dream job.

Studying bugs and dead bodies is not everyone’s cup of tea.

But for 14-year-old David Giesbrecht, it’s a dream job.

The Watson Lake Secondary School student is interested in forensic sciences and, thanks to Dreamcatcher Yukon, he now gets to correspond with a mentor working in forensics in Toronto.

The brainchild of Yukoner Beverly Sembsmoen and Toronto cancer research scientist Dr. Josh Silvertown, Dreamcatcher Yukon offers high school students the chance to talk with career mentors for a month.

“It’s the only program like this in the world,” said Sembsmoen.

During a Canadian leadership fellowship in 2005, Sembsmoen met Silvertown and they developed the Dreamcatcher project.

“As part of the fellowship we were told to create a pilot project that related to a public policy issue of significance to Canadians,” said Silvertown.

The project was created to address the territory’s high student dropout rate.

“Grade 9 is a crucial year when many students decide whether or not they are staying in school,” said Sembsmoen.

“So, we targeted this age group.”

The project was launched at Carcross School last year, with 14 students from three different grades in the class.

“And every Grade 9 student in the program moved on to Grade 10,” said Sembsmoen.

Because Dreamcatcher was so successful in its pilot year, Sembsmoen and Silvertown decided to volunteer their time to keep the program running.

Now in its second year, Dreamcatcher classes are offered at four different Yukon schools — Watson Lake, Carcross, the Independent Learning Centre and Vanier — with a total of 22 students signed up.

“We hope to hit more rural schools next year,” said Sembsmoen.

“Because with these outside mentors, students begin to see the rewards of staying in school.”

Mentors range from local musicians and carvers to chemists and professors as far away as San Francisco.

“They found a person for everyone, and all the students are happy with who they got,” said Giesbrecht, who chats with his mentor, via e-mail, on a daily basis.

“It’s quite the experience to be able to talk with someone in your dream job,” he said.

“It’s something you thought you’d never be able to do as a kid, and you actually get to do it now. It’s very inspiring.”

Dreamcatcher pushed Giesbrecht closer to his dream, he said.

“It’s more possible because now you know someone who’s actually done it and gone through with it and is in that job,” he said.

“And you’ve got someone who’s always there, who you can refer to. And she’s extremely willing to help you get to your dream job in any way, shape or form.”

In its second year, the program still targets Grade 9s, but some older students have also become involved.

“I saw signs and saw it advertised on TV and thought, ‘That’s cool,’” said Grade 12 Independent Learning Centre student Britteny Smarch.

“But I thought it was for younger students and never considered it.”

After hearing her teacher talk about the program, Smarch became involved.

“I’ve always wanted to be a cop,” said the 20-year-old.

“After seeing how some cops treat people, I wanted to become a cop and change that, and help youth at risk.”

Smarch is in contact with a police officer in Vancouver.

“We’re just starting to get to know each other,” she said.

“And I’ve asked him some questions about my past experiences with the law.”

The Dreamcatcher students also get to spend a day locally shadowing people in their dream professions.

“So, someone who wants to be a vet will get to spend a day at a Whitehorse vet clinic at some point during the program,” said Sembsmoen.

“Last year, I went to the hospital for the day, to try and see what it’s like being a doctor,” said FH Collins student Samantha Smith.

The 15-year-old participated in the Dreamcatcher program last year in Carcross, and still plans to pursue her dream.

“I want to be a doctor, so I can help people,” she said.

During the program, Smith’s mentor told her about med school experiences and opened her eyes a bit.

“She told me how hard it would be to watch people pass away,” said Smith.

Dreamcatcher made it easier to try and pursue this career, she added.

Next year schools in Ross River, Carmacks, Teslin and possibly Faro, plan to participate in Dreamcatcher’s career guidance program.